Chicago – Chicago II

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  • You’ll find solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from first note to last on this outstanding copy of the band’s sophomore release
  • Big, rich, and present throughout, with real Jazz Rock energy – this is just the right sound for this album all things considered
  • One of the most difficult rock albums to find good sound for, bar none – it’s by far the toughest nut to crack in the entire Chicago catalog
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The contents of Chicago II underscore the solid foundation of complex jazz changes with heavy electric rock & roll that the band so brazenly forged on the first set.”

*NOTE: On side three, a mark makes 8 moderate pops at the beginning of Track 1, Fancy Colours.

This album spawned three top 10 singles and can sound very good on the right copy. Finding that copy, though, can be incredibly difficult — that’s why you won’t often find top copies of the album on our site.

This vintage Columbia pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the best sides of Chicago have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above.

Peter Cetera Was A Monster

Not many musicians qualify for the list of Most Underrated, but Peter Cetera should be right up at the top. His bass playing alone — forget his singing, which is as good as any pop singer of his generation — qualifies him for Most Talented (but for some reason) Overlooked Musician. The huge bass sound Peter got out of his axe is the meat and potatoes of this album.

Talk about beefy bass; this album, like their first, can really deliver rock-solid bottom end, at least on the tracks that were properly recorded, mastered and pressed, which is not many.

Again, it’s hard to believe this is the same guy that sang and played on ‘Hard To Say I’m Sorry’. His jazz-rock chops anchor the rhythm section with the kind of energy a band with as many pieces as this one needs. Chicago boasts seven top players, but Cetera’s brilliance cuts through on practically every song.

What We’re Listening For on Chicago

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks for the guitar, horns and drums, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

360 Original or Red Label Reissue

Both can be good. Years ago when I last did the shootout I tried to guess the label for the copy I was hearing, for fun more than for anything else. I have to admit that my batting average was not much better than chance.

The 360s tend to be a little fuller and smearier, but plenty of red label copies sound that way and some 360s don’t, so trying to match the sound to the label was even more pointless than usual.

When comparing pressings in a shootout it’s too late for the label to have any predictive value. We’ve already bought the records, cleaned them all up and now just want to know what they actually sound like — not which ones might be the best, but which ones are the best. The time for guessing games has passed. Of course, if we do actually figure out what the right stampers or labels are, this helps us next time around.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Movin’ In
The Road
Poem For The People
In The Country

Side Two

Wake Up Sunshine (Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon)
Make Me Smile
So Much To Say, So Much To Give
Anxiety’s Moment
West Virginia Fantasies
Colour My World
To Be Free
Now More Than Ever

Side Three

Fancy Colours
25 or 6 to 4
Prelude
A.M. Mourning
P.M. Mourning
Memories Of Love

Side Four

It Better End Soon
1st Movement
2nd Movement
3rd Movement
4th Movement
Where Do We Go From Here

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

The contents of Chicago II (1970) underscore the solid foundation of complex jazz changes with heavy electric rock & roll that the band so brazenly forged on the first set. The septet also continued its ability to blend the seemingly divergent musical styles into some of the best and most effective pop music of the era.

One thing that had changed was the band’s name, which was shortened to simply Chicago to avoid any potential litigious situations from the city of Chicago’s transportation department — which claimed the name as proprietary property.

Musically, James Pankow (trombone) was about to further cross-pollinate the band’s sound… [several] selections feature the band driving home its formidable musicality and uncanny ability to coalesce styles telepathically and at a moment’s notice. The contributions of Terry Kath (guitar/vocals) stand out as he unleashes some of his most pungent and sinuous leads, which contrast with the tight brass and woodwind trio of Lee Loughnane(trumpet/vocals), Walter Parazaider (woodwinds/vocals), and the aforementioned Pankow. Peter Cetera (bass/vocals) also marks his songwriting debut — on the final cut of both the suite and the album — with “Where Do We Go from Here.” It bookends both with at the very least the anticipation and projection of a positive and optimistic future.

Chicago on Vinyl

Most pressings don’t reproduce all the percussion harmonics, the leading edge transients of the horns, or the big, open space around the vocals of Peter Cetera’s and his band mates that we know are there, but the high-res, super-transparent copies can bring out all those qualities and more.

The better sides tend to have a much sweeter and more open top end, which really helps the vocals and guitars to sound tonally and harmonically correct.

Good presence helps to put the singers right in the room with you, and when the band kicks in, the sound really starts jumping out of the speakers. That’s what we’re talkin’ about when we give the best sides our highest grade: A Triple Plus.

Big, Bold, Lively Horns

The sound of the brass on any Chicago album is key — it has to have just the right amount of transient bite yet still be full-bodied and never blary. In addition, on the best of the best pressings you can really hear the air moving through the horns.

The best sides have the Chicago horns leaping out of the speakers. What is a Chicago record without great horns? Without that big bold sound you may have something, but it sure ain’t much of a Chicago record.

Most copies suffer from dull highs and smeary, compressed brass. This is a sound we cannot abide. The lively copies with real bite to the brass and plenty of ENERGY in the music are the only ones for us. Finding them is not easy but we managed to come across some that made the grade and are proud to offer them on the site as time permits.

One More Sonic Note

We often notice during our Chicago shootouts that a fair number of the songs on their albums tend to be hit and miss sonically (especially when it comes to the more multi-layered and dynamic tracks).

But on the hotter copies the production missteps don’t seem to be nearly as problematical.

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